Fish I’ve kept: Tiger Barbs

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This page lists my experiences with Tiger Barbs. While some of the fish-related Web sites you may find may give you the scientific information, very few of them probably tell you the information in this post. I should point out however that these are my personal experiences, your mileage may vary, not least because Tiger Barbs have very individual personalities.

Firstly though, here are some scientific facts and figures:
Scientific name: Puntius tetrazona
Name: Tiger Barb
Size: 7cm / 3″
pH range: 6.5 – 7.5
dH range: 5 – 19
Temp: 20–25°C / 68–78°F

Although the above information may state 7.5 as maximum for pH, and although many Web sites may state as high as 8, I have to say that Tiger Barbs to prefer a low pH. Once a tank gets old the pH naturally drops and to combat this I put Limestone in the tank, this raised the pH up to 7.8 and although the Guppies sharing the tank were absolutely fine (as were the other water parameters), the Tiger Barbs began to struggle. I would therefore recommend not keeping Tiger Barbs above 7, while contrary to the information above my Tiger Barbs have been absolutely fine as low as 6.2.

Tiger Barbs are very difficult fish to find friends for. They have a mixture of personalities and they will bite even the largest of tank companions. Below is a list of the fish kept with Tiger Barbs in my tanks at one time or another, and what happened with each:

Ramshorn Snails – Yes, my Tiger Barbs have attacked and eaten snails. Ramshorn snails are usually pulled straight out of their shell and the Tigers then do their ‘game‘ which I will explain below.

Mystery Snails – This type of snail is too large to kill, so they simply nibble on them. At times I wonder if I should remove the snails, but as it is usually not the same snail twice in a row I let them be. Occasionally they will appear bored and a group of the Tigers will attack.

Ghost Shrimp – The Tiger Barbs are absolutely fine with Ghost Shrimp and I still have at least one in my largest tank from almost a year ago (I know because I haven’t replaced any and still see him coming out when I feed), however, Tiger Barbs will also attack and kill Ghost Shrimp as a part of the ‘game‘ I’ll explain below.

Peppered Corydoras – These small Cory catfish were treated similarly to Mystery Snails. The Tiger Barbs would seem to get bored and nibble on these fish for amusement. This got bad enough that I no longer keep these fish in the same tank.

Rainbow Shark – This fish was a danger to the Tiger Barbs rather than them being a danger to it. When the shark reached maturity it took to head-butting the Tigers in the gills and this caused visible injuries and two deaths from the 15 Tiger Barbs I had in the tank at the time. The Rainbow Shark showed no signs of aggression when young, but I had to return the Rainbow Shark as it was not a suitable tank mate for Tiger Barbs once mature.

Oscar Fish – Tiger Barbs are no threat to this fish from my experience. However, my Oscar started as around 4″, so a smaller one may become a target. When the Oscar gets larger he may start to attack and eat the Tiger Barbs though.

Red Serpae Tetra – These fish seemed to be accepted by the Tigers immediately. The Tigers seem to realise these fish are not Tiger Barbs, so leave them alone, but the Serpae Tetras seem to think they are Tigers so will try to school with them! Great tankmate for Tiger Barbs.

Guppies Female – Although the Barbs may be interested in Guppies either when first introduced or when bored, the huge majority of the time a large female Guppy will not be bothered by Tiger Barbs.

Guppies Male – Fancy Male Guppies are like a dangling carrot to a Tiger Barb, that swishing tail seems far too attractive to ignore and although I have never experienced any deaths I do not consider them compatible.

Zebra Danios – Zebra Danios are simply too fast to be concerned with Tiger Barbs.

Longfin Zebra Danios – Longfins seem slower than regular Zebra Danios, but I still never saw any issues. There was a definite difference in how much interest was paid to the Longfin Zebra Danios though and I think the Tiger Barbs were interested in biting the fins – but were never fast enough to catch one.

Giant Danios – I have never had a problem keeping Giant Danios and Tiger Barbs together. Of all the fish I have tried and had to either move or sell back to the Pet Store, these are the only one I can confidently say I find a safe bet on a good tank mate. My Giant Danios were added at about 3″ and have since grown to about 4″, smaller fish could be a target but are probably too fast to ever be.

Snowball Bristlenosed Pleco – Tiger Barbs seem scared of fish with black coloring. I never saw them approach this Pleco once to nip fins. He was a small fish, too, and never grew very large.

Common Pleco – The only common Pleco I have had with the Tiger Barbs was added to the tank at about 5″ and is now (at time of writing) about 12″. Amazingly I have seen the Tiger Barbs nibbling at him whenever he goes over ‘their side of the tank’. The Pleco, however, completely ignores them and does not seem irritated. Half the time they seem to be playing with him like this, the rest of the time they actually seem scared to go near him: It’s quite comical and underlines the differences in personalities between Tiger Barbs.

Dragon Goby – This fish was sold to me as a Freshwater semi-aggressive which would have no problem with Tiger Barbs, I soon discovered (with no thanks to the fish store) that not only is it not Freshwater, it is not aggressive in any way. The Dragon Goby was picked on quite horrendously by the Tiger Barbs until I was able to move it into it’s own Brackish (partly salt) tank. It was disturbing to see how they would not give up the chase and would not allow this fish to be free of them.

Neon Tetras – This was probably the most surprising tank mate for Tiger Barbs. These small, mouth-sized fish were never even looked at by my Tiger Barbs and I have had two sets of Tiger Barbs in tanks with two sets of Neon Tetras. If I didn’t think it a risk to have Neon Tetras with Giant Danios, then I would certainly consider Neon Tetras an excellent choice for tank mate alongside them.

Cardinal Tetras – I had Cardinals mixed in with Neon Tetras, see above – same reaction.

The Killing Game

So, as mentioned in the compatibility information above, Tiger Barbs do like to be aggressive. One of the interesting things though is how they actually play with their kill and parade it purposely through the rest of the Tiger Barbs almost inviting them to try to take it.

I have seen a single Tiger Barbs on one end of the tank pick up a Ghost Shrimp and swim all the way over to the rest of the Tiger Barbs at the other end with it in it’s mouth, seemingly to start a game… The other Tigers then chase the individual fish and try to take it away: It does usually end up looking like a game is being played. This behavior has been repeated with a baby Guppy and many Ramshorn Snails.

Tiger Barbs will eat anything… ANYTHING!

As I said above, I’ve seen Tiger Barbs eat Snails and Ghost Shrimp alive. I’ve also seen them nibble on other fish and snails quite often.

Tiger Barbs in my tanks also eat algae wafers, sinking catfish wafers, frozen bring shrimp, frozen blood worms and live blood worms without problems or hesitation.

Perhaps most surprising is that I have often seen them eating Pleco feces (I am guessing there are plenty of undigested algae still to be had).

Keep them in groups!

Tiger Barbs need Tiger Barbs. Even with large groups they will nip, eat, play – do all the things I’ve said above – but in smaller numbers, they’ll be even worse.

With a large enough group and a large enough number of males, the huge majority of their time will be spent sorting out dominance. Males will go nose-to-nose and look like they are kissing but infact, they are fighting, see the video below:

As soon as the loser swims away the fight is normally over and the victor gets to be the Alpha Fish until the next challenge is made.

I would recommend no less than five Tiger Barbs to be kept in any tank. Because of this, Tiger Barbs should never be kept in a 10 gallon tank, it simply isn’t large enough for five fish of their size.

Other behavioral weirdness…

Tiger Barbs sometimes are not very active: They’ll group together at one side of my tank and just stay there for hours, only occasionally chasing one another out of the group.

Also depending on how the water flows around your tank, Tiger Barbs will either ‘head stand’ or ‘tail stand’. I have an upwards water flow at the back of my largest tank and a downwards one at the front, so when resting the Tiger Barbs will point their nose down at the back and up at the front so they use as little energy as possible. This can be worrying at first and some Web sites and forums will tell you there’s something wrong with your water parameters – and there may be – but not always: I’ve had Tiger Barbs doing this for the whole time I have kept them, while I have had good water parameters and while the Barbs have been 100% healthy. I think there’s some mis-information out there.

Conclusions on the fish

If I were able to make my choice again (a choice made on the bad advice of a fish store), I probably would not have started to keep Tiger Barbs. They are so restrictive that it actually makes it difficult to keep any other kind of fish, although Giant Danios and Red Serpae Tetra are a possibility.

If you want to keep a species tank (one breed), then the Tiger Barb is probably an awesome fish to have a tank full of, but I wanted to explore the hobby and don’t feel this fish allows me to do that.

42 thoughts on “Fish I’ve kept: Tiger Barbs

  1. [..YouTube..] No they don’t go that far. The winner is an ongoing problem, the winner of this fight will be challenged by someone else within a few days, they constantly change leader.

  2. Very imformative – I have 6 Tigers – two males and four females in a 16 gallon tank. However, one male is getting larger than the other male and becoming very aggressive towards the other male – Any advice would be much appreciated.

  3. I have 3 males and 7 females at the moment and 2 of the 3 males fight most of the time because two are in prime condition and each a suitable ‘alpha male’. Sometimes a slightly smaller male can still think he is top-dog and will fight with the other for the position… With my fish they will fight, sometimes for an hour or more, they may chase each other around – but they always tire and stop eventually.

    Are you seeing any injury to the fish? The Rainbow Shark I had left visible injuries to the Tiger Barbs around the gills. Tigers normally attack the nose.

  4. I have six Tigers, two males and four females. They were all about the same size when I bought them two months ago, however, one of the males, who was originally the alpha male is now much smaller than the other male. Why has one male become so much larger than the other? and what is the best ratio of keeping males to females?

  5. Hi Graham,

    That ratio should be fine, 2 females to a male is a pretty good one to go with with most fish, if you have space making it 3 females would be better.

    As to why a male might not get bigger, it could be a number of reasons, I have a male who was the same size when young but hasn’t grown at the same rate also, and he is the third male who never gets involved in fights in my tank (the two larger males are always chasing each other around). Females are usually larger than males, is it possible he was a female though?

    So anyway, 3 to 1 is best, but 2 to 1 is OK.

  6. [..YouTube..] sweet im gonna get some then will any thing be wrong if they both live together in a 10 gal with cherry barbs

  7. [..YouTube..] @cheezypuffle 10 gallon = 10 inches of fish. Tiger Barbs grow to 2.5″ each, Neon Tetras are about 1 inch, Cherry Barbs I don’t know I have never kept them.For Tiger Barbs to not be aggressive you need at least five, if you get just those, your 10 gallon is overloaded just with that.You’re welcome to do it, just don’t blame me. :)

  8. [..YouTube..] @cheezypuffle 10 gallon = 10 inches of fish. Tiger Barbs grow to 2.5″ each, Neon Tetras are about 1 inch, Cherry Barbs I don’t know I have never kept them.

    For Tiger Barbs to not be aggressive you need at least five, if you get just those, your 10 gallon is overloaded just with that.

    You’re welcome to do it, just don’t blame me. :)

  9. [..YouTube..] 10 gallon = 10 inches of fish. Tiger Barbs grow to 2.5″ each, Neon Tetras are about 1 inch, Cherry Barbs I don’t know I have never kept them.

    For Tiger Barbs to not be aggressive you need at least five, if you get just those, your 10 gallon is overloaded just with that.

    You’re welcome to do it, just don’t blame me. :)

  10. I have five tiger barbs and had 8 neon tetras, after only two days I’m down to 4 tetra’s. It is hard to tell but I think there are 4 males and only 1 female she always seems to be doing her thing while the other 4 are in a group. Should I get more females? I also have 5 cherry barbs and two Japanese algea shrimp, I would hate for those to be assassinated as well 8(

  11. Tiger Barbs will nibble and/or kill just about everything, especially if in smaller groups. I was really lucky with Neons though and never saw a hint of aggression, but my group was bigger than 5. With that kind of number it is tough to know what would help… More males might allow them to spend all their time fighting with each other, which will spare the other fish, while more females might not do anything (as they’re unlikely to breed in a tank with other species around).

    What size is your tank? If it’s small I would take the Tiger Barbs back to the store as your Neons and everything else might not have enough space to run to. If it is a big tank then it’s tough to know whether getting rid of the Tigers or getting more would be the correct thing…

    One last point to ask is to make sure the Tigers did it and that the Neons didn’t die due to something else. Neons can be the first to die if a tank has issues such as being uncycled.

  12. Hey, this is great, but I have one Bala shark and 7 tiger barbs, but the Bala is getting his back fin nibbled so bad, his fin has gotten smaller, and is being eaten, I was wondering if there was a was to nullify this by getting more tiger barbs or a different fish, like the giant danios

  13. It’s possible, but it’s also possible the pack mentality might overrule this… I’d return the Bala shark in any case as they prefer to be in groups rather than by themselves. So doing that, and then replacing him with more Tiger Barbs might work?

  14. I have eight tigers in a twenty gallon (thirty gallon aquaclear filter). I have a problem with algae growing on plants and need a clean-up crew. I heard tigers eat snails, so I would need a snail that is really tough. I tried keeping corys, but the tigers nipped thier fins. If not snails, what can work? Plus I don’t want a fast breeding snail.

  15. The easiest way to get rid of algae is to feed a little less and have the lights on for a little less time.

    As far as snails that are OK with Tiger Barbs, you may be OK with the Malaysian Trumpet Snail.

    They will breed fast if you overfeed your fish (which may be likely, lots of people do it without causing any issue except algae in the tank) as they’ll breed to the level where they can consume that extra food. If you don’t overfeed, they won’t over-breed. :)

  16. Love this site, I have had a completely different experience with my tiger barbs though. At the moment I have 3 tiger barbs, 3 green barbs, 4 silver tip barbs, 2 angelfish, a couple skirt tetras, 3 Cory , 2 danios, some guppies and a black knive In a forty gallon tank. Soon the silver tips and black knive be moved to a 150 gallon tank because they are getting big.
    So far none of the fish including the tiger barbs have been aggressive to the others. They love schooling with each other and i find them resting in groups with the angel fish.
    One thing I do when I populate my tanks is to buy the fish I want in groups and if possible for them to be ofthe same size. They seem to get used to eachothervas they grow and so far have had tanks that I set up or friends or myself with fish that i have read should not be together.
    I have one 60 gallon tank with barbs, blue cichlids, tin foils, brown knives parrot fish and a couple pacu. The pacu eventually end up in pond with my koi.

  17. Tiger Barbs and Green Barbs are the same fish, they can’t tell the difference, so a group of 6 is probably adequate to keep them under control anyway… But the controlling force in your tank is probably the Angels or the Black Knifefish, both of those are predators and can rule a tank – and that’s what’s probably keeping your Tigers under the thumb. :)

    You’re right on letting fish grow up together, but eventually that doesn’t work. I’ve read many times that ‘I have this combination working fine’, sometimes for years, but eventually if it’ll fit into the mouth, it’ll get eaten. So then you have a choice of whether the years you are in good luck are more important than the chance of the smaller fish being eaten. :)

  18. [..YouTube..] @30calRover I use a siphon connected to my tap, put it on full blast and just wave it back and forth, the lighter particles float up and are sucked away into the sink.

  19. [..YouTube..] I use a siphon connected to my tap, put it on full blast and just wave it back and forth, the lighter particles float up and are sucked away into the sink.

  20. Great info thank you. This is funny to me tho because my primary stock is Tigers (13) Red Serpeas (15) and Giant Danios (5). Is that too many in a 29 gal tank run by a fluval 405 cannister? It’s been running for a couple months now and I haven’t lost any of them yet. I do a 30-50% water change every three weeks or so.

  21. With a massive filter like that (on a 29 gallon), you’re really overfiltering and can have a higher stock as long as aggression isn’t a problem (which it can be in smaller environments). I always over-filter. My smallest tank now is a 55 gallon and I have a 400 gallon-capable filter on it.

  22. Stupid question…. Safe to add 2 pearl gourami to tank with 5 Zebra Danio, 4 Red Serpae Tetra, 2 Cordy…. 9 Tigers? 35 gal Hex

  23. Well… I went ahead and did it… and this is a BUSY tank! Went with opaline gourami instead of pearl and everyone is getting along fine… with the exception of one shy opaline that hides out all the time, but I suprisingly blame that on its opaline mate and not the tigers!!! After years of staying away from tigers because of bad experiences from their aggression I think they are becoming my favorite fish!! Love the way you approached the behaviors of Tigers…. keep it up!!

  24. nice tank… I’m pretty new at this hobby… I currently own a 26G tank and Have 7 Tigers in there.. (4 regular, 3 green) of those only 2 are males (regular). at first i only had 1 male… as I didnt know the difference and well it was hell in that tank. The fighting between them was horrible. (well correction the male kept picking on all the females)

    after adding the 2nd male the tank is much better… I also have a rafael (talking) catfish in there… but mostly hides in a cave and only comes out at night…

    I also have a red tail shark, which doesnt put up with the tigers s#$%! He mostly hides in the cave with the catfish, comes out from time to time to chase a tiger barb for kicks…

    lastly, i have a algae eater… not sure the name but its one of those pale orange ones… I believe they grow to be 8 inches big… he is pretty aggressive and does well with the tigers… usually he pushes them away from his spots (caves and food)

    so far they are all doing great… i love my tigers but i feel the same as you… petstore should of done a better job explaining the cons of having tigers… they do nip at each other… and thank god for the second male or 2 of my females would of been dead by know.

    anyway, nice site… lots of info… love the videos…


    PS: there is a vid of my thank on youtube here is the link is still a working progress…

  25. Have you ever tried putting tiger barbs with clown loaches? I currently have both in my tank and they all tend to stay in a group together. The barbs seem to enjoy the company of the loaches and I have never seen them attack, assert dominance, or chase away and of my loaches.

  26. Different experience to mine ;(

    6 Tigers were introduced a day ago with a few other fish (giant gourami, baby swordtails, leopard guppies, red eye tetra, neon tetra, bala shark and silver dollars) … since then, 9 out of 10 neon’s have disappeared and 20 small baby sword tails are gone. Now I never saw them being pursued … all I saw was the half eaten carcass of a neon tetra being ripped into and shredded, eventually devoured by all 6 Tigers (the other fish didn’t touch them) so they’re top of my suspect lists.

    Bit frustrating really since the Tigers are really active and nice to watch. Same goes with my knifebacks – which I had to give to a friend for similar reasons – but they weren’t as aggressive as the tigers.

    Ahh … all in all about 30 fish gone in the space of a day! Google search came up with this post … arrgh

  27. [..YouTube..] you do know that the whole inch per gallon thing is not true right? small schooling fish should ALWAYS be in large groups. 10-15 of them in a 10 gallon is quite alright. with proper filtration and heating they will be happy and healthy

  28. [..YouTube..] You’re assuming they have proper filtration, I’m not. The 1 inch per gallon guide (and that is all it is) is very useful to beginners. It doesn’t work for everything, you can’t put a 10 inch fish in a 10 gallon, for example.

    For beginners it is really easy to overcrowd a tank and not have enough filtration, the guide works as a way to prevent that.

  29. [..YouTube..] very true you can’t but it is also common sense that you can’t do that. i mainly think if a fish looks crowded he will be put in a larger tank. no measurements or anything and that’s worked for 15 years so far lol

  30. [..YouTube..] tiger bards are mainly fin nippers. fish with long flowing fins should not be kept with tiger barbs

  31. [..YouTube..] Never underestimate the stupidity of the human race. ;)

    I’ve seen Oscar fish and Arowanas in 10 gallon tanks.

  32. [..YouTube..] I absolutely love these fish, got 7 in my tank intending to expand and get up to about 30. Absolutely amazing.

  33. [..YouTube..] I absolutely love these fish, got 7 in my tank intending to expand and get up to about 30. Absolutely amazing.

  34. [..YouTube..] I absolutely love these fish, got 7 in my tank intending to expand and get up to about 30. Absolutely amazing.

  35. [..YouTube..] I absolutely love these fish, got 7 in my tank intending to expand and get up to about 30. Absolutely amazing.

  36. I have 5 of them in my 29 gallon tank too. I also keep a five gold barbs, a betta, a sail fin molly, two silver dollars, three three spotted gouramis and and three bamboo shrimp and a plecostomus. I’ve also got a couple of small nerite snails.

    I have seen these guys do the head butting thing (two are going at it right now as I type) and I was curious if it was a dominance thing or just playing. Glad you had such a thorough post.

    Anyway, they pretty much leave all the other fish alone, so I haven’t seen any problems.

    I have a 10 gallon “sick” tank too, since it’s not recommended that you put tigers in a qo, do you have any recommendations for what I need to do to quarantine them if the need arises?

    (For those of you who are going to comment my tank is over laden, there are plenty of hides, a very aggressive circulation/filtering set up. I’ve never had any nitrite/nitrate issues over the years I’ve been keeping fish. If you’re a beginner, don’t try this many fish at home!)

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Aquarium Category Information

My first word was "fish", and my earliest memory is of the fish tank my parents had while I was a baby. Starting with a 10 U.S. gallon tank and easy fish like Zebra Danios, and some Cory Catfish, I quickly upgraded to 55 then 125 gallon tanks, and at one time had seven tanks in a relatively small apartment.

I've had some interesting experiences with my fish, such as moving them 1000 miles across the country and of course going through that lesson everyone needs to learn; not to trust the fish store. I've ordered fish online, but now primarily use a store called Animal Island in Midlothian, Illinois. This store accepts fish returns for partial store credit, so I have used this to my advantage and kept many different types of fish, gaining experience in a short time about a huge number of species.

My favorite fish so far is the Vulture Catfish, which is an absolutely beautiful long-whiskered and active catfish. My current biggest fish is a Fahaka Puffer.

Left: Rotkeil 'Severum'.


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Tim is British and lives in the United States with his wife and kids.

He works for software developers Image Space Inc. and Studio 397 on their racing simulations, and is a fan of Gaming, Motorsports, and photography.